By Donald Wittkowski
The cause of a massive fire in Sea Isle City that destroyed three oceanfront homes worth millions of dollars will remain a mystery.
Fire investigators were unable to pinpoint exactly where the Nov. 24 blaze broke out in one of the homes, so the cause will remain undetermined, said Capt. Anthony Garreffi of the Sea Isle Police Department.
“There was too much damage to determine where and how it started,” he said. “With it being undetermined, it’s hard to give you any other information.”
Officials from the Cape May County Fire Marshal’s Office, the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and the Sea Isle Police Department investigated the fire. Once the Fire Marshal’s Office submits its final report to the police department, the investigation will be officially closed, Garreffi said.
The early morning blaze destroyed two duplexes and a single-family home on prime beachfront property along Pleasure Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets in the Townsends Inlet section. Garreffi didn’t know the total value of all three homes, but the single-family house was worth $3 million.
Garreffi said investigators know that the fire started somewhere inside the duplex located in the middle of the three homes, although the cause could not be determined. Flames spread to the adjoining houses before firefighters from Sea Isle and four neighboring towns extinguished the blaze.
One duplex burned to the ground, while the charred remains of the other were demolished shortly after the fire. At first, there was some hope that the single-family home could be saved, but it was torn down in December after it was determined to be a total loss.
Ron Schlupp, who owned the single-family home, has started construction on a new $4 million oceanview house on the same spot.
“The new one is going to be built bigger and better,” Schlupp said in an interview Saturday.
Schlupp is planning to invite the public to an open house over the Fourth of July holiday to celebrate the completion of his new home. He noted it will be his way of expressing his gratitude to his neighbors and others who helped him in the aftermath of the fire.
The 83-year-old Schlupp is the retired owner of Schlupp’s Maintenance Co., a Pennsylvania-based building maintenance and janitorial services firm. His full-time residence is in Churchville, Pa.
His Sea Isle home, which he had owned since 2000, served as the gathering point for summer vacations with his wife, Jackie, his sons, Brian, Tim and Skip, his daughter, Beth, and 12 grandchildren. Schlupp and his 80-year-old wife have been married for 61 years.
“We’re just a close-knit family,” he said.
His sons are overseeing construction of the new house, while his wife will handle the interior decorations. Many of the prized family keepsakes in the old house were lost in the fire.
Schlupp was surprised to learn Saturday that the cause of the fire was undetermined. He had been told earlier that there may have been a gas leak in the duplex next to his house, but added that everything was “all hearsay.”
Both duplexes were unoccupied during the fire, as was Schlupp’s house. Authorities said no one was injured.
It is not yet known what the duplex owners plan to do with their now-vacant property.